When I popped out for lunch in Seoul earlier this week, I ventured into my favorite local Japanese restaurant and tucked into some delicious udon noodles. No time to stop and cut the noodles, and no suitable apparatus to do so, I lifted the udon with my chopsticks and slurped their lengths noisily until I'd eaten the entire noodle (impeccable manners here in Asia!).
I glanced around the room and to my horror I saw an absolute hunk of a Western man, (more delicious than my noodles, even!) stare on in astoundment at my terrible dinner table etiquette as he neatly cut his food.
Whatever, Mister. I then got to thinking about the ways that living in the Far East has changed me, and the reverse culture shock I will feel when I return to the West in a few months time, as I have felt on trips home previously.
Hereon are the thought processes that no doubt ensue when you return home from a society with a much different culture than your own...
1. Information Overload
You find it mighty peculiar to walk around and be able to understand everything that the people around you are saying - don't they realize that you can hear them? Sheesh! Talk about oversharing! This must be what Mel Gibson felt like in "what women want".
2. "Wait! Don't you want my photograph?"
As "the foreigner" in your overseas community, you've become something of a local celebrity - an oddity if you will - like something that fell out of Ripley's "believe it or not". At first you relish the fact that people aren't staring at you here, then you start to question why and miss strangers gasping at the sight of you or approaching you to call you attractive.
You wonder if you've turned invisible... or if maybe it's like that Bruce Willis movie when he doesn't realize he's dead?
3. Where do they get off on these prices?
Your old friends suggest a get together over dinner and you jump at the opportunity for a catch up - but wait... it's how much?! For that?! Hmm... maybe they've just put the decimal point in the wrong place, it surely can't be that... Oh apparently that is the correct price... but for that price I could have a banquet like Henry VIII in the Far East! Will my friends think I'm too frugal if I just eat the hors d'oeuvres?
4. The Schizophrenic Appetite
"It's just so great to finally eat something other than rice and noodles!" You announce. "When I was in Asia, it was just rice and noodles, rice and noodles.... Actually, now that I think about it, I really miss rice and noodles... Does anyone know where I can get some good rice and noodles around here?"
5. The Misdiagnosis: Human Or Marsupial From Mars?
Ready to get back into the swing of things, you strap on your dancing shoes and head out to the bars with your friends. "Usher's new song is great isn't it?" You ask them, bopping along to the beat. "Yes, it was... when it came out 10 months ago" your friend replies. You feel like an alien plonked down on planet Earth from Mars - everything that you have known for the past X amount of months/years (delete as appropriate) ceases to exist here and everything around you is all so shiny, new and unfamiliar.
6. Wise Story Teller or Repetitive Old Man?
Think back for a moment to the nineties; can you remember that annoying woman in "American Pie" that everyone hated? "This one time, at band camp..." That's you, recalling your life overseas. You don't remember who you've told what story to, and your friends are too kind to remind you they've heard this one four times already so they listen, smiling and nodding like a child listening to their grandpa repeat that same anecdote about his childhood for the umpteenth time.
Melissa Douglas blogs at www.highheelsandabackpack.com